Are you all on the same page in your practice?

2016 08 05 13 04 56 163 Knowles Lisa 400

There is nothing worse for closing the deal than giving patients mixed messages. Mixed messages lead to distrust and deal-breaking decisions. If you are having trouble closing the deal with case acceptance, maybe it's time to survey your team to make sure everyone is on the same page with the same script saying the same things.

To be clear, I am not saying everyone should say exactly the same thing so that the office sounds like a robotic video screen with the same messages playing over and over. However, everyone should have the same message. For example, in one of the offices I visited, I overheard a hygienist telling a parent to not floss her child's teeth until the adult teeth erupt.

Lisa Knowles, DDS.Lisa Knowles, DDS.

In my previous office, I heard an assistant tell our patient to only bite on gauze after an extraction for 30 minutes, and then the patient would be done.

Of course, in my mind, I thought, "What if he is still bleeding after 30 minutes?" and "Children should floss their teeth when their teeth touch together -- primary or permanent teeth."

These mixed messages while educating our patients not only have harmful effects, they confuse our patients. At the front desk, receptionists might get a call back from the extraction patient saying, "My mouth is still bleeding, and the assistant told me to only bite on the gauze for 30 minutes." Now, the practice looks incompetent.

When this occurs, the front office team gets more work to do and the patient feels fear and worry. Most postextraction instructions are written down for our patients, but often, what is said is what the patient remembers.

In the extraction case, the overall message is to tell the patient to make sure the bleeding is stopped. For the hygiene instruction, the overall message is to ensure patients clean all surfaces of all of their teeth for both children and adults.

5 tips for better communication

So, where does the breakdown occur and how can we prevent these mixed messages from happening? Here are some tips to create better communication within your office and ensure there is a high level of patient satisfaction and better case acceptance.

1. Role play

“How can we prevent these mixed messages from happening?”

During the hiring process, role-play a few scenarios with each candidate. Give them scripts to use and then also take away the scripts to see how they respond to improvised situations. Can they follow a script and pick up on the message as much as the words?

Have them apply what they learned in a different scenario but without a script. They may not be perfect, but it gives you an idea of how they communicate and if they are open to learning and feedback.

2. Train, train, and train some more

Once your new employees are hired, go through situation after situation so that the new employees know the culture and desires of the leaders in the office. Make sure they know each dental procedure, the pros and cons of each procedure, and what can go wrong with each procedure. This can also be done retrospectively.

3. Quiz the team

Use the morning huddle to review new procedures or unique situations that occurred the day or week before. Ask team members what they would say in certain situations. Occasionally, spend time during a lunch hour to go over preferences, review how to explain certain procedures, and pretend to field mock questions from patients. Rotate who gives the quizzes.

4. Be an eavesdropper

Listen in on how each team member educates others. If the message is not congruent with the desired message, inquire with that person about the new message. Did the team member learn something new recently? Is the person going rogue with her own advice?

It's important for the entire team to be up-to-date with new recommendations so that the patient receives the proper information. But just as important that one team member does not confuse the patient if that patient sees another provider the next time in the office. This can be extremely difficult to accomplish in a large practice with many providers. Therefore, with a large team, more communication in multiple ways will be necessary to prevent overall patient confusion or distrust.

5. Use the member check-in technique

This simply requires someone to verify what they were told or what was discussed. I use this when I am planning treatment for a lengthy case. I ask my assistant or hygienist to read back to me what she heard me say so that we do not mistake any surfaces or teeth numbers. I "check in" with my team member for confirmation and verification.

This technique is also helpful when training. Ask the trainee to repeat back what the message might be and what he or she heard as a rule or a policy for the practice. This gives both the message maker and the message receiver a better understanding of how they give and receive information. With practice, both parties involved become better at disseminating information and listening with understanding.

Being on the same page and remaining on the same page are constant demands of any dental office. As technologies change and philosophies evolve, there is a constant need to update communication between the professionals and the patients. It's ever so important to make sure everyone relays the same messages to the patients to keep patients from second-guessing the practice's trustworthiness or expertise.

Lisa Knowles, DDS, practices at Haslett East Lansing Dental Health & Wellness in East Lansing, MI, and is the founder and CEO of IntentionalDental Consulting. For more information, contact her at [email protected], or visit her website at

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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